I have been on the hunt for a wooden harmonica cover for sometime until a friend of mine, Filip Jers, told me about Wood-Maker Trung Nguyen from Vietnam. In viewing Trung's work, I found myself absolutely stunned by his craft. Since then I wanted to know more about him and decided to ask him a few questions!
Tell us a little about yourself & your relationship with chromatic harmonicas.
My name is Trung Nguyen and I started playing the Tremolo Harmonica when I was 11 years old. My father, who was also a soldier played it very well. Although I didn't understand anything about it, I really liked the sound. I played songs by ear.
At that time, didn't know where to go or ask for lessons. In Vietnam, there were very few people who even know about the harmonica. Things eventually became stagnant and I stopped playing.
In the '90s, I randomly bought a CD by Robert Bonfiglio at a record shop. I was so excited while listening to it, yet I was sad that I was not able to play his music. He used a Suzuki SCT128 harp which I didn't know about at the time, I only noticed that he played a large type of harp.
In 2017 as I searched the web, I ending up finding a chromatic harmonica advertised online in Vietnam. I then went to directly to that musical instrument shop where I sold off my trumpet and bought my first chromatic harmonica, a Suzuki G48W for a pretty high price of about $500!
How did you learn woodworking?
Upon graduating from University in 1998, where I majored in Electrical - Electronics, I found i didn't have much interest in the related work. I have experienced many jobs with many different professions such as: Electrical maintenance at a seafood processing factory, a design department employee at a printing and packaging company, a supermarket salesman and a wedding photographer. Finally, I began learning Japanese and planned to work in Japan. After the 9/11 events occurred in the US, Japan made cuts to the number of foreigners coming into Japan to work which included me.
After that, I applied to work at a small Japanese company in Ho Chi Minh City. With 3 and a half years as an office worker, there was no room for growth so I decided to change jobs again. A Japanese friend in the company then introduced me to every new Japanese representative office operating in Ho Chi Minh City with the business of promoting trade in construction materials between Vietnam and Japan.
From that point on my life was changed. I stumbled upon a newfound love in working with wooden products. I worked with wood flooring, doors, and kitchen cabinets. When I first joined the company, there were only 3 employees, after a year and a half there were dozens of employees and I became the head of the company's representative office in Vietnam.
By the time 2020 rolled around, I have held positions such as: Technical director of the factory, Managing director of product showroom, Construction director of the company's projects in Da Nang (the area) Central region) and most importantly the construction of 9 apartments designed by Japanese architects at the Hilton hotel complex in Da Nang in 2018. In 2007 I joined the company with 3 employees, and in 2020 now with 180 employees, I decided it was time to move on.
Since buying the Suzuki G48W harp, I thought I could make similar products, so in 2018, I along with a fellow colleague started experimenting with producing covers for my chromatic harmonica.
What skills do you need to build wood covers and repair harmonicas?
I now have many harmonicas. I'm a technical person, so it is a must to make drawings of the wood cover before production. Making a wooden cover requires that the wood maker not only have love for the harmonica, however; they must also possess the knowledge of wood. A little bit of dexterity along with the ability to observe and deduce.
Wood supply, what kind of woods are you into these days?
Vietnam is a country with vast forests and seas. Our resources are abundant, so handicrafts are our strength. I utilize the top 4 Vietnamese woods. They are rich in color, variety and have high durability. They are very expensive when large in size and are listed as rare. With small-sized materials, the implementation of wood products are allowed by the state.
Do your wood cover have a specific sound or sound profile? Something you aim for?
Wooden cover have only two forms. Pure Wood and Metal with Wood. In principle, wood will suppress higher frequencies and retain lower frequencies. With "hard" wood (from 1,000kg/1m³ or more) good sound dispersion will keep the remaining frequency range. That's why you can choose the sound you want. But with softwoods (<1,000kg/m³) the sound dispersion of the wood is reduced, so the sound is reproduced very "turbid".
With a weight of more than 1,000kg/m³, the wood will sink in water. Light weight woods <1,000kg/m³ can still make wooden boards, but the sound it makes will not be as "strong" (eg: oak about 800kg/m³, Ash wood about more than 700kg/m³) and the color of wood in cold countries will be brighter.
Currently, wooden covers have also been made by many artisans in many countries, but widespread dissemination is difficult.
How does it feel to make an instrument and send it out into the world?
Firstly, I am a harmonica lover and I want to do more for it. I do it so that Vietnamese harmonica players and lovers can experience the sound of a wooden cover along with a very decorative product. I am very flattered and happy to know that foreigners also like and appreciate it after buying and trying it out. I will have to think a lot more to be able to add some shapes in some key places on the wooden cover so it can work at a better level.
In the future, I want to make harmonica parts using Vietnamese wood, bamboo, and fossil wood materials and I will recommend them to international friends.
How can customers order wood covers from you?
Currently, I'm freelancing and just focusing on making wooden covers and repairing harmonicas. The workload is a lot because it's only me. In terms of business now, the profit is there but not enough to hire employees so I will operate slowly, safely and efficiently.
Personal Facebook: Trung Nguyen
Product page: Wood Good - Wood cover